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Sunday, 10 May 2009 17:49

NASA approves Atlantis for Hubble repair mission

NASA managers signed off on Saturday, May 9, 2009, that the space shuttle Atlantis is ready to be launched on Monday, May 11th for its space mission to service and repair the Hubble Space Telescope for the fifth and final time.

Saturday’s meeting gave the official ok to launch Atlantis and its crew to the Hubble Space Telescope.

The NASA meeting also gave approval for the space shuttle Endeavour, which is ready to be launched in case Atlantis, and its STS-400 mission, has problems in space far from the safety of the International Space Station.

More information on the STS-400 if-needed emergency (launch-on-need) mission is found on the April 30, 2009 NASAspaceflight.com article “NASA approves May 11 for STS-125, reviews ‘Special Topics’ for STS-400.”

Launch of the STS-125 mission is set for 2:01 p.m. Eastern Daylight Time (EDT), 1801 Greenwich Mean Time (GMT) on the eleventh of May. You can watch liftoff at NASA TV.

The mission is also called HST-SM4 by NASA, or Hubble Space Telescope Servicing Mission 4. (The previous missions were called SM1, SM2, SM3A, and SM3B.)

NASA weather forecasters are predicting that the weather will most likely cooperate for Monday’s liftoff from the Kennedy Space Center in east-central Florida. There is an 80% chance for acceptable weather on the day of launch.

Weather.com predicts only a 20% chance of rain on Monday for the Cape Canaveral area, with mostly sunny weather and a high of 90 degrees Fahrenheit and a low of 72.

Ed Weiler, the associate administrator for NASA, stated, “... to say we got our money’s worth out of Hubble is an understatement.” [Reuters: “NASA clears shuttle for flight to Hubble”]

Page two continues.

As of the launch date, the Hubble Space Telescope has been in orbit for over nineteen years.

The space observatory, a collaboration between the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) of the United States and the European Space Agency (ESA) of the European Union, was launched by the space shuttle Discovery on April 12, 1990.

The space shuttle Atlantis crew numbers at seven for this high-profile mission.

Scott D. Altman will be the commander of the STS-125 mission to Hubble. Retired Navy captain Gregory C. Johnson will be the pilot of the space shuttle Atlantis. Mission specialists for the flight include previous spacewalking astronauts John M. Grunsfeld and Michael J. Massimino and first-time astronauts Andrew J. Feustel, Michael T. Good, and K. Megan McArthur.

During their eleven-day mission, the STS-125 crew are scheduled to conduct five spacewalks, each one lasting for approximately 6.5 hours, to repair defective equipment on the space telescope, along with installing two new science instruments (Advanced Camera for Surveys and Space Telescope Imaging Spectrograph) and replacing a Fine Guidance Sensor, six stabilizing gyroscopes, 125-pound batteries, and other equipment on Hubble.

One device to be replaced held up the mission for several months. On September 27, 2008, the Science Instrument Command and Data Handling (SIC&DH) unit failed onboard Hubble. Although the unit has a backup, NASA was concerned that if the backup unit would fail it would be disastrous for Hubble (because all science data is processed through the unit).

Therefore, the U.S. space agency delayed STS-125 from October 14, 2009, so they could prepare another one stored on Earth to be taken up and installed on Hubble.

Page three concludes.

A new thermal blanket will also be installed onto Hubble to better protect (insulate) the telescope while in space.

The astronauts will also install a “soft-capture mechanism,” which will be used to attach a robotic spacecraft to safely de-orbit the telescope after its lifetime has ended.

The five spacewalks are scheduled to be filmed in 3D by the IMAX Corporation for use as a three-dimensional IMAX movie. For more information, read the iTWire article “Hubble repair mission to be on IMAX 3-D.”

The main camera will be swapped out for a bigger and better one--the Wide Field Camera 3, a panchromatic wide-field camera that films in the infrared, visible, and ultraviolet ranges of light (radiation).

In addition, an instrument (the Cosmic Origins Spectrograph) used to analyze in the far- and near-ultraviolet (far- and near-UV) range of the electromagnetic spectrum will be installed. It will be used to sense various characteristics of distant stars and exosolar planets (planets that orbit stars other than our Sun).

Ray Villard, a spokesperson for the Space Telescope Science Institute (Baltimore, Maryland, U.S.A.), which manages the space observatory project, stated, “It’s like looking for a ladybug on a headlight.” [Orlando Sentinel: “Hubble: Our heavenly view of amazing space”]

Villard was comparing these exoplanets (“ladybugs”) that can be drowned out by their stars (“headlights”), which are often billions of times brighter than their orbiting planets.

The Hubble Space Telescope, with the successful repair and servicing by the Atlantis crew, is expected to remain functional to at least the year 2014, and might even make it as far out as the year 2021. Its near-circular low-earth orbit is about 347 miles (559 kilometers) above the surface of the Earth.

The May 10, 2009 FindingDulcinea article “The Hubble Telescope: From First Launch to Last Repair Mission” provides a good overview of the Hubble mission over the years.


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